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How audience trust fuels the future of independent journalism

Quintype

Journalism in the post-truth era

Journalism is in the midst of a public trust crisis. Globally, trust in journalism among the general population hovers at 56 percent. Numerous and complex factors like the use of half-truths, ubiquity of fake news and deliberate sensationalism to titillate audiences in order to gain most clicks and views have led to an erosion of consumer trust in newsrooms and on journalism. While information fabrication is not new, latest technology and social behaviour has amplified it enormously. Since truth and facts are the primary products that journalism promises to deliver, it is imperative that your audience should trust you to circulate accurate information.

Why trust matters

If journalists are peddling accurate and great content as their products, they need their audience to trust them in order for their products to sell. Trust is the most important asset a journalist can possess. TIME even named specific journalists (or guardians) as its Person of the Year for 2018 “for taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and for speaking out.”

Consumers today look beyond accuracy, attribution and clarity when they assess the trustworthiness of a media house. They look at various parameters like the ownership of the media house, diversity in newsrooms, bias in coverage and the kind of brands they associate themselves with, etc.

“The challenge isn’t to lecture them. The challenge is to engage them across the spectrum of views and backgrounds. Making our journalism sound more opinionated won’t help. It places the emphasis in the wrong place.”
Michael Oreskes, the former head of NPR News.

With the rise in news consumption on social media channels, consumers now also look at parameters like number of comments, likes, shares and most importantly, who shares your news articles, to influence your trustworthiness. “The sharers act as unofficial ambassadors for the brand, and the sharers’ credibility can influence readers’ opinions about the reporting source.” presented Media Insights Project, in a research report which was conducted as a collaboration between the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

How audience trust fuels the future of independent journalism
American Press Institute

When audiences trust your content, they follow your content, engage with it, share it with their social circle and also pay for it. With Indian publishers now experimenting with paywalls and subscription models, they first need to establish that their content is worth paying for. As seen in the Digital News Report published by Reuters Institute in 2019, Indians are willing to pay for online news in the future.

India Digital News Report 2019
India Digital News Report 2019

Rebuilding trust in Journalism

So, how do media organisations fix this public trust crisis? First, focus on the basics. Accurate, complete, unbiased and inclusive reports are always appreciated by the consumers. Reports that leave no scope for doubts about disinformation to fester instantly make users trust you. In their book, The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel mention, “This discipline of verification is what separates journalism from other forms of communication such as propaganda, advertising, fiction, or entertainment.”

Second, engage with your audience. If you want your audience to engage with your content, it is only fair for you to engage back with them. Moderate healthy debates, acknowledge relevant and diverse point of views and be empathetic. Your audience will trust your organisation more if they know that, behind the curtains, there are real people who genuinely care about the issues they engage with.

Lastly, accept that you are prone to making mistakes and own your mistakes as and when they are brought to light. This conveys your passion for truth to your audience. Be open to audience submissions and participation. The future of independent journalism is a blend of mainstream and citizen journalism.

Only by reinstating steadfast trust in journalism can a media house transcend the mindless pursuit of page views in favour of a subscription-based model. Your prime offering in order to make the shift? High quality journalism that can't be found anywhere else and hence is worth paying for. As The Ken's co-founder Rohin Dharmakumar puts it,

“The fundamental truth for any product is that if you create it with heart into it, and it offers quality, there will be people willing to pay for it.”